Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
The 2001 Daytona will be remembered as the darkest day in Nascar history. Even though Michael Waltrip finally won his first ever Daytona race, it was the events of the last lap that fans remember the most.
Heading into the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, Michael Waltrip was fighting off his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Behind them, team owner Dale Earnhardt was doing something no one had ever seen him do before – blocking other competitors. Sure, Earnhardt blocked when he was leading, but never before had Earnhardt blocked, so two other drivers could compete for a win. It was a father protecting his son, and an owner protecting his driver.
Going into turn 4, Earnhardt got loose and went nose first into the wall. To many it was another wreck that Earnhardt would walk away from. Five minutes passed, then 10. Waiting turned into wondering. "Is Dale OK? I sure hope Dale is OK," chimed Darrell Waltrip in the TV booth. The announcement that followed a few hours later shocked not only Nascar, but the world.
Nascar President Mike Helton got on a mic and made the announcement, "After the race at Daytona, we've lost Dale Earnhardt." No one knew how to react. How could Superman die? Did he say what I think he said?
Nearly 10 years has passed since Earnhardt's death and the void is still there. There has not been another driver that has been able to step in and take the role Earnhardt had.